Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
(or, as my mother knows it, “the one with the whales”)

  • star_trek_iv_ver1Year:  1986
  • Director:  Leonard Nimoy
  • Series Rank:  #3
  • Year Rank:  #10
  • Oscar Nominations:  Cinematography, Original Score, Sound, Sound Editing
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, Sound, Visual Effects, Sound Editing
  • The Enterprise Crew:  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig
  • Villain:  man as a species

The second and third Star Trek films had given us villains: a classic villain from the original series as well as the major villainous race.  For the fourth film, they decided to look inwards and see what we have done to ourselves.  By looking at our history as the real villain, it reduced the drama throughout the film and allowed the focus to turn towards characterization and humor.  While the tri-part relationship between Kirk, Spock and McCoy had been the focus for two films, this time it allowed that to sit on the sidelines (it would come back in the fifth film) and focus was placed more on the relationship between Kirk and Spock, allowed to start again a bit thanks to Spock’s resurrection.  Meanwhile, the other characters were allowed their own moments and we also got the “fish out of water” story with our intrepid crew moving back in time and coming to San Francisco in 1986, complete with colorful metaphors.

The story seems large and complex but is in fact simple: a probe comes to Earth wondering why it no longer hears the song of humpback whales (in Star Trek canon they were hunted to extinction in the 21st Century), so the crew has to go back in time and get a couple of whales to save the future.  In spite of being an avid Doctor Who fan, this kind of thing just hurts Veronica’s head (“What about causing problems with altering the future?” she asked just before McCoy pointed the same issue out when Scotty is introducing transparent aluminum to the past.  Scotty says, in the film, “How do we know he didn’t invent the stuff?”  In the novelization (the last I read, so we’re done with these asides), Scotty knows that he invented the stuff.  “I hate time travel,” Veronica replied in response to that tidbit of information.).  Of course, there are some massive plotholes left open in this film: How fast did the probe move in its quest towards Earth?  Didn’t Chekhov just leave behind his communicator and phaser in 20th Century?  Does Catherine Hicks’ character live down by the bay, and if she doesn’t, why would she get off the bridge and drive down there – remember we’re on the opposite side of the bay from Sausalito in that scene?  Why aren’t they beamed directly into the ship from the hospital instead of the grass outside the ship?  (That one is easy – because it’s the only way to make it work that she leaps on him when he’s beamed up.)  Why does the ship suddenly stop sinking as soon as Kirk releases the whales?  But we kind of just blow right by them because we’re enthralled with the humor, with the character moments, with the possibilities that the future leaves for us.

Consider the scene with Kirk and Spock in the truck.  They are asked if they like Italian food.  The original script called for Spock to say “no” and Kirk to say “yes” at the same time.  Instead, they modified it slightly, with the yes and no answers playing off each other.  Of course, it began with the great lines “You’re not exactly catching us at our best.”  and “That much is certain.”  All of those show how well Shatner and Nimoy work together, how well the characters play off each other and it just makes us laugh.

Some of the humor depends on how well you take it.  I mentioned above Veronica’s reaction to the potential time travel problem.  Veronica’s seen this movie before, of course, more than once.  But all she can remember about it is Chekhov’s pronunciation of the “nuclear wessels”.  I think those lines are hilarious.  Veronica finds them painful.  Do you laugh at the scene with the guy on the bus or do you just find it obnoxious?  Does it change anything if you know that the guy was an executive producer on the film and actually co-wrote that little song “I Hate You”, which according to, would have been eligible for Best Original Song?  How much do you laugh about the line about “the collected works of Jacqueline Susann”?

Some moments should make you laugh no matter what.  After all the talk about profanity, when Spock, in the truck says “Are you sure it isn’t time for a colorful metaphor?” you want to just bust up.  It’s even better at the end, when Kirk asks Spock how long it will take and he replies “Just one damn minute, Admiral.”  This film, in spite of the horrible things that man has done to itself (yes, this film has a big environmental message, one which we should heed), is a truly heart-warming, yet still exciting film.  Best of all, it concludes exactly the way we want it to (complete with goof – we are told at the beginning of the film that Kirk is charged with 9 violations of Starfleet regulations, but they only read out six): with Kirk being placed back in command of a starship.  And then we get that great moment in Spacedock, where they cruise past the Excelsior and we see that perfect ship laying in wait for them, newly built, and ready for more adventures.  That the next adventure was a considerable let-down didn’t get in the way of the feeling that this film was ending exactly where it needed to: with hope for the future.